Friday, 29 June 2018

A Passion for Pinching

In most respects, I prefer to read a printed paper newspaper, rather than a newspaper online (I suppose the latter shouldn’t even be called a newsPAPER really). However, when it comes to pictures in papers, I have been tainted irredeemably by modern technological ways.

Since discovering the pleasures of pinching pictures to make bits of them bigger, I have become increasingly maddened by the impossibility of doing the same thing when I see a picture on an actual page. I wonder if anyone else has the same problem - my fingers twitch and I have to prevent them from grabbing the page in question and trying to spread the paper it is made of wider, in the manner I use to enlarge an image on an electronic touchscreen.

Given this new and problematic impulse, I haven’t dared enter an art gallery for quite some time.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Portrait of a Dutiful Wife

Rereading Shirley Hazzard’s exceptional novel, Transit of Venus, I am struck by this portrait of a vain professor’s wife:

“Charmian Thrale’s own reclusive self, by now quite free of yearnings, merely cherished a few pure secrets – she had once pulled a potato from a boiling pot because it showed a living sprout; and had turned back, on her way to an imperative appointment, to look up a line of Meredith. She did not choose to have many thoughts her husband could not divine, for fear she might come to despise him. Listening had been a large measure of her life; she listened closely – and, since people are accustomed to being half-heard, her attention troubled them, they felt the inadequacy of what they said. In this way she had a quieting effect on those about her, and stemmed gently the world’s flow of unconsidered speech. Although she offered few opinions, her views were known in a way that is not true of persons who, continually passing judgement, keep none in reserve.”

There is such attention, such precision, such intelligence and thoughtfulness in this little sketch. This observant, thoughtful kind of writing is very rare and precious

Sunday, 17 June 2018


I have noticed recently that for a lot of people whose grievances once went unnoticed - (possibly unnoticed even by the people concerned, those entitled to be aggrieved) - justice is now being done. What a relief. We no longer have to switch off the television in disgust, revolted that some neglected group in our society remains unrepresented.  Vera Stanhope may work in  rural Northumbria but her police station can boast its share of minority groups - as can the Shetlands outpost of law enforcement run by Anne Cleeves’s other famous character, Jimmy Something or other.

Except, hang on a minute - there are still some of us out here feeling utterly excluded and severely discriminated against. Yes, that’s right, me - and all my brothers and sisters who have also struggled with lifelong discrimination. I'm talking about those of us who are lefthanded, a group who have to face battles with scissors and smudging ink and lack of representation in the media. Just look, next time you see someone pick up a pen on the television or a film: which hand do they use, eh?

When do we so-called "southpaws" - (I know, I know, life really is tough for us and everywhere we look we are degraded by strangers) - get a look in on prime time? When will the shadowy forces that run everything in the wicked conspiracy of empathy-free entitlement  that is today's so-called "society" recognise that, unless every fourth or fifth shot on the screen of a person picking up a pen in their right hand and writing is balanced by a shot of someone doing the same thing but with their left hand, there will be thousands and thousands of us out here, feeling marginalised yet again. Spare a thought for the sense of exclusion each one of us in the left-handed community feels each time we witness a letter being written, a document being signed - by yet another right-hander.

Oppression, tell me about it.

If the creation of positive images of lefthandedness had not been neglected in my youth, who knows what I might have achieved. Instead of spending sports afternoon after sports afternoon being forced to hold a tennis racquet in my right hand, before being told that I was simply the worst tennis player any of the sports teachers at my school had ever seen, I might have felt "empowered" enough to go on to conquer Wimbledon.

Or possibly I might not have. And possibly we all have our own individual difficulties and strengths and weaknesses and possibly gestures at representation cannot cover the entire spectrum of individual sense of self and possibly we should relax and stop making ridiculous nods that change nothing and distract and confuse audiences, so that instead of following the story of Murder on the Orient Express, for instance, we are left asking ourselves, "Were there really people of African origin working as policemen in Slavonski Brod between the wars?"

And do not get me started on the current Hamlet production at the Globe.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Cavaliers and Roundheads

The UK education system spends a great deal of time teaching children about the Tudors but, in my experience, very little time teaching them about the English Civil War. I find this surprising as I have a suspicion that that conflict still influences the stance different Britons take when forming their opinions about contemporary issues. Just lately, in fact, following the Brexit vote, it has felt more and more as if a second civil war might be on the point of breaking out, The level of hostility felt by supporters of each side towards their opponents seems almost as intense as I imagine that felt by each side in the days of Cromwell.

It is very dismaying.

What I’d love to know though, if there is anyone out there who has access to this kind of information, is whether any kind of correlation can be discerned between parts of the country that once supported the Cavaliers or the Roundheads and parts of the country that voted to leave the European Union in the recent referendum - or to stay. Does anyone know? Is there any kind of discernible pattern that shows views on Brexit mirroring former Civil War allegiances?